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New Labour - Tough on fishermen, tough on the causes of fishermen.

Christopher Brooker on how theMarine Fisheries Agency(MFA) uses laws designed to tackle drug barons against fishermen.
We now know where the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, brought into being after Edward Heath gave away Britain's fishing waters in 1973, has ended up. The answer is in Walton Prison, Liverpool, a notoriously tough jail where two respected fishermen from Northern Ireland, Charlie McBride and his son Charles, are currently incarcerated.

Although I briefly noted this story last week, it is so shocking that I now return to it in greater detail. In December 2007 the two McBrides appeared in Liverpool Crown Court, having pleaded guilty earlier in the year to misidentifying catches of fish for which they had no quota under EU rules. But instead of just asking for fines to be imposed on fishermen who break quota rules, the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) now has a new tactic. It calls in the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) to use the Proceeds of Crime Act, designed to recover money from international drugs traffickers, money launderers and other major criminals.

Soca – which last year replaced the Assets Recovery Agency, after it had spent £65 million to recover £23 million – assumes that if someone has benefited from the proceeds of crime for more than six months, he is living "a criminal lifestyle". Everything he owns can then be deemed to have derived from criminal activity.

In the case of Charlie and Charles McBride, all their assets were thus valued at more than £1 million, including their boat and homes (valued at the height of the property boom). On this basis Judge Nigel Gilmour not only imposed on them fines of £385,000 – infinitely more than the value of the fish they had wrongly declared – but ruled that all their assets should be frozen as "proceeds of crime", even though the home and boat had been bought before the offences were committed. He also told the men that, unless they paid the fines within six months, they would go to prison for up to three years.

At their wits' end as to how to raise the money, the two McBrides negotiated a second mortgage on their homes. Charlie McBride presented Soca with £120,000, asking that it should be taken as a down-payment on the fine until he had somehow found the rest. The agency asked how he had come by the money and, when told that it came from remortgaging his house, told him that he would be charged with contempt of court because the house was a "frozen asset".
(A catch 22 tactic if ever there was one, grab the assets and dump a fine on them. Then when they raise cash using the only thing they have, their assets charge them with contempt.)

Two weeks ago the two men were accordingly jailed for contempt, and having been allowed one telephone call to tell his wife Karen what had happened, Charlie is now serving out his sentence as a prison refuse collector.

So delighted is the MFA at discovering the Proceeds of Crime Act that it has used this sledgehammer tactic twice more in the past year. Three Thames fishermen were fined £317,000 for catching sole for which they had no quota. (Most of the UK sole quota had been given to foreign fishermen.)

In January the owners and skippers of six Newlyn boats were fined £188,000 for catching hake for which they had no quota (though hake were abundant). Among those fined were an 83-year-old widow, Doreen Hicks, and 82-year-old Donald Turtle and his wife Joan. They were found guilty by Judge Wassell because they were part owners of boats skippered by their sons.

In all these cases, the absurdly disproportionate fines have caused serious hardship; but the McBrides are the first fishermen who have been not only ruined but sent to jail, thanks to the ruthless war waged by the MFA.

When Mr Heath gave away Britain's fishing waters 36 years ago, his ministers lied to Parliament by pretending that we still retained control of our waters out to 12 miles. But even Mr Heath cannot have foreseen the day when, thanks to the zeal of British officials and judges, our fishermen would end up alongside violent criminals in a Liverpool prison.

So there you have it. Now I am not saying that these chaps are innocents, however the weight of "justice" brought down on them is far in excess of what they deserved. 

Land some fish and you go to jail and lose all your assets. Much like customs taking your car and home for smuggling in some bottles of booze.

Compare with: 
Drive dangerously in the case of Lord Ahmed and leave a man dead, 16 days or so in jail.

Run a bank and commit fraud, deception and glorified Ponzi schemes and Gordon Brown will bail you out to the tune of billions.
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5 people have spoken:

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Scary.

I've never eaten hake.

I'm innocent m'lud.

Houdini said...

I agree, but, this is nothing to do with Heath, or the EU, or in fact anyone but the scum fucking coppers and Government. The French ignore this and the Germans and Spanish and Portuguese.

We gold plate these laws for some strange reason, but it is coppers and bureaucrats who are to blame. Scum the lot of them.

William Cobbett said...

My Uncle Harry died at Caen, 28th June 1944, fighting SS Panzers to end a vicious and tyrranical dictatorship. What a complete waste of effort.

Anonymous said...

"criminal lifestyle"... I like that term. Make no mistake,should a BNP goverment ever come to pass and we will use the same terminology when we round up all the expense fiddling MP's. Please let that happen in my lifetime.
Urban11

it's either banned or compulsory said...

They are clearly using this as practise for misusing laws against the rest of us in future. Picking on some obscure individuals in a dying industry at the back of beyond. Well done Chris Booker for picking it up, much good it may do us.

Btw, how come Experian did not notice that their properties where " frozen " and allowed a second mortagage to go ahead ?